Afraid and hungry
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2013 - 12:00am

The trial of a criminal case against anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) activists who destroyed an eggplant research farm of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) in 2011 resumes on Monday, Oct. 14.

The case of malicious mischief is being tried at the sala of Municipal Trial Court-Fourth Judicial Region judge Regina Balmores-Laxa.

Charged in this case were 11 Filipino members of the activist group Greenpeace. They were charged for allegedly destroying UPLB’s Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant – more popularly known as Bt talong — experimental farm located in Bay, Laguna. The UPLB-led research project started in 2006 and aims to develop a variety resistant to fruit and stem borer, the most destructive pest attacking eggplant, now the country’s number one vegetable crop.

On February 17, 2011, they allegedly forced their way into the foreign aid funded UPLB-Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) experimental farm and destroyed its gates and uprooted the Bt talong. The UPLB estimated the damage to property caused by the intruders at P25 million.

In December 2012, a Bt talong research project also of UP Mindanao in Davao City was attacked. Last August 8, militants destroyed the research farm on “Golden Rice” in Pili, Camarines Sur, run by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). As I’ve said before, there is a disturbing pattern by which Greenpeace resorts to such violent and destructive antics.

On the same note, is our Court of Appeals (CA) succumbing to the fear-based propaganda being peddled by local and foreign groups against modern agricultural biotechnology? This is a logical question that can be drawn from the ongoing word war between anti-biotechnology groups led by Greenpeace and Filipino scientists led by researcher-academicians from UPLB.

The question is also being asked in the wake of a recent CA decision permanently stopping UPLB scientists from pursuing field trials for Bt talong.  In a resolution released about two weeks ago, the CA issued a “writ of kalikasan” against Bt talong, citing it was “justified and warranted.” 

However, government agencies like the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI); the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB); and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) argued that the Bt talong was still in the field trial stage. Moreover, they informed the Appellate Court that the tests were done in a controlled environment. UPLB also invoked the constitutionally enshrined principle of academic freedom in challenging the CA decision. 

Greenpeace is capitalizing on the recent CA decision. The Europe-based group must have poured in much financial and human resources into its self-proclaimed “war” against UPLB research initiatives on food and plants. Based from statements being attributed to Greenpeace, the CA said it junked the appeal of our scientists because the latter “failed to prove that Bt talong is safe for human consumption and for the environment.”

The CA will have to forgive the layman’s ignorance of how the court arrives at this decision. But the ordinary man-on-the-street may have expressed a valid concern to ask this question: “Was Greenpeace able to prove that Bt talong is unsafe?”

That’s the problem with us being a non-lawyer. Most Filipinos who follow the story of our Filipinos scientists’ uphill battle against Greenpeace do not know who had the so-called “burden of proof” in this case.

Did Greenpeace prove before the CA that the biotech eggplant variety was indeed not safe? Or did it merely allege the risks and left the job of proving it fit for human consumption and safe to environment to the Filipino scientists?

Such questions cannot be helped, with apologies to the CA. This is because the public knows that there is a global consensus among scientists worldwide that biotech-developed food and plants are “safe.” In fact, others say these food varieties may actually be safer than the traditional varieties since the former have to go through a long and rigorous process of testing before they are approved for release to the market.

We recall that another government agency, the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blasted Greenpeace’s allegations. New FDA head Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go went out of his way to clarify to the public, through media interviews, that there has never been a single case anywhere in the world where a person was adversely affected by biotech food.
Is it safe to presume that the assurances of safety given by the FDA and other agencies and institutions of science — such as the World Health Organization (WHO)  —  not enough to convince the CA that the products of modern agricultural biotechnology are safe?

If so, who and what did the CA believe? Greenpeace? What proofs and evidences did Greenpeace present to the CA which may have led it to believe that our Filipino scientists were lying when they said biotech food are not safe for human consumption?

Or was the CA merely saying that it has bought Greenpeace’s well-known scare tactics and that our scientists failed miserably to assuage their fear?
At the end of the day — to borrow the favorite phrase of President Aquino — no matter what the doubts and questions are on the mind of Filipinos, the CA and its decision must be respected. If the wisdom of the decision is to be questioned, we believe it must be done so in the right venue. In this case if it ever reaches the highest court of the land, it is the Supreme Court (SC).

This appears to be the next move by our Filipino scientists. We laud the decision to elevate this to the SC. This is obviously because we are siding with Filipino scientists here and definitely because we also object to the strong-arm tactics of Greenpeace in its single-minded war against GMO.

But the most compelling reason is we want the truth. We want to make sure that our courts are backing Greenpeace on this issue not because of fear but because of truth. We just want to make sure we did not merely succumb to fear of the unknown.

Facetiously, we can say we are hungry for truth. The worst part is we literally go hungry. The worst thing though that could happen to this country is for us to be both afraid and hungry.


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